Thursday, December 11, 2008

Why I Would Totally Have Slept With Joseph Smith


My Dear and beloved companion of my bosom, in tribulation, and affliction,...I have a great anxiety about you, and my lovely children...If I do not meet you again in this life, may God grant that we may meet in heaven. I cannot express my feelings. My heart is full...oh my kind and affectionate Emma, I am yours forever your husband and true friend. Joseph Smith, Jr.

Sure, Joseph wrote love notes like these to his wife Emma. But to convince Miss Nancy Rigdon to join him in plural marriage he also wrote such doctrinal gems as this:

"Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God. But we cannot keep all the commandments without first knowing them, and we cannot expect to know all, or more than we now know unless we comply with or keep those we have already received. That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another." (Joseph Smith to Miss Nancy Rigdon, 11 April 1842)

I'm a sucker for a guy who can expound spiritual truths. If you want to make my knees weak, quote me some scripture. And Joseph was the fount of personal, original scripture. I admire his desire to draw near to Deity, from the time he was a young boy until the end of his life.

Joseph was also a passionate and virile man. He had a romantic nature that was drawn to metaphysical ideas such as Swedenborg's theories on the premortal existence of spirits. Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner stated:
"Joseph said I was his before I came here and he said all the Devils in Hell should never get me from him."
Elsewhere she wrote that Smith told her he had been commanded to marry her, "or Suffer condemnation—for I [Mary] was created for him before the foundation of the Earth was laid" (Compton, p. 19, quoting Mary Elizabeth Lightner, Autobiography). I'm sentimental, too--there's something in this idea that appeals to me. I want to believe in "soul-mates," those beings who have had and will have an eternal spiritual connection. I'm sure such a proposition, made by the tall, mesmerizing Joseph, would really have hooked me.

Joseph the man appealed to everyone. Those who met him were often profoundly affected. Wrote Wilford Woodruff:
“Before I saw Joseph I did not care how old he was, or how young he was. I did not care how he looked—whether his hair was long or short; the man that advanced that revelation was a prophet of God. I knew it for myself. I first met Joseph Smith in the streets of Kirtland. He had on an old hat, and a pistol in his hand. Said he, ‘Brother Woodruff, I’ve been out shooting at a mark, and I wanted to see if I could hit anything.’ And, said he, ‘Have you any objection to it?’

‘Not at all,’ said I. ‘There is no law against a man shooting at a mark, that I know of.’

He invited me to his house. He had a wolf skin, which he wanted me to help him to tan; he wanted it to sit on while driving his wagon team. Now, many might have said, ‘You are a pretty prophet; shooting a pistol and tanning a wolf skin.’ Well, he tanned it, and used it while making a journey of a thousand miles. This was my first acquaintance with the Prophet Joseph. And from that day until the present, with all the apostasies we have had, and with all the difficulties and afflictions we have been called to pass through, I never saw a moment when I had any doubt with regard to this work. I have had no trial about this. While the people were apostatizing on the right hand and on the left, … it was no temptation to me to doubt this work or to doubt that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God.”
(Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, ed. G. Homer Durham, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1946, pp. 29–30.)
Joseph had a strong physical and charismatic attraction. And besides that, he was the most powerful man in his immediate vicinity. He was the lieutenant-general of 3,000 men in the Nauvoo Legion the militia of the State of Illinois. He had his eye on the highest political office in the nation, and his word sent men from home and family to preach the gospel abroad and women from comfortable circumstances to gather to Zion with the Saints. A familial sealing bond to Joseph could assure salvation, he promised.

But it's more than this that assures my affection.

I'm bothered by the view of Joseph Smith that's become popular lately. You know the one-- it's bandied about in online discussion as well as at ward social occasions. Joseph was simply wrong about polygamy, some say. Perhaps he got the message from God a little confused; or had some personal shortcomings that led him to sin in this manner. Not enough to keep him from being the revered Prophet of the Restoration. But enough to make his marriage practices suspect and inappropriate.

I don't believe that Joseph was confused, or wrong, or sinful. I think he was doing what he did with other social, political and cultural conventions of the day; throwing them on their heads. I think it was Divine intention that the social customs and attitudes of the day be challenged so that the light of new ideas and revelation could be poured out. I think it is interesting to discuss the implications of Joseph Smith's many marriages; and, in fact, I would like to have joined him in his dedication to a brave new world.

I understand that for many modern Latter-day Saints, the topic of earthly or even heavenly plural marriage is uncomfortable. But I always feel hopeful when someone is able to embrace the strangeness, the complexity, the amazing richness of our history. Confusing and wrenching, yes, but with aspects of challenge and gloriousness. It will not fit in a box or be explained.

Though I've never met him, I've been profoundly affected by the energetic and enigmatic Joseph Smith, unusual conjugal practices and all. I'll close with the sentiments of Brigham Young, which would have been mine had I been alive with the Prophet Joseph:
"I feel like shouting hallelujah all the time, when I think that I ever knew Joseph Smith, the Prophet..." (Discourses of Brigham Young, 458.)


***more of my musings on Joseph Smith over at Mormon Matters today!

19 comments:

C. L. Hanson said...

If I'd been a teenager at the time (like my great-great-great-great aunt), I probably would have too, for various reasons. I'm not sure I would have been impressed by the extemporaneous scripture, but who knows?

Jared said...

Sleeping with someone is not the goal for saints; marriage should come first. I assume--you assumed that when you wrote the title of your post.

Mammamia said...

LOL! I would have spit my coffee, that is if I drank coffee, all over the computer screen this morning when I read your title. What a way to wake up!

Fifthgen said...

BiV: So, I have read this post and your post on ploygamy today at Mormon Matters. The romantic, Mary Lightner quotes here are in interesting juxtaposition to the data on Joseph Smith's descendants (or, more accurately lack of decendants) from his plural wives. What do you make of that? I assume that Joseph, a young healthy man, was as attracted to women as the next guy. But the fact that he and Emma had many children, but there are, as yet, no docuemnted offspring from other wives is intriguing.

Seth R. said...

Fifthgen,

I imagine we can't prove Joseph had any polygamous offspring for the same reason we cannot prove any Native Americans have Middle Eastern DNA.

Personally, I think he probably did sleep with at least a few of them. Mere speculation on my part. But it fits with what I've read about his personality.

MCQ said...

Seth, You might imagine that, but you would be wrong. It should be relatively easy to prove Joseph's descendants through other women, but we have relatively few possible candidates. Of the thirty five or so women that Joseph was married to, there are only a handful of children that are even possible children of Joseph. Why is that? Well, since they probably did not use birth control, it must be because Joseph did not marry these women primarily for sex and therefore did not have sex with them very frequently, if at all.

Seth R. said...

OK, please elaborate.

How many kids are candidates? And why is it a slam dunk (or at least likely) they aren't his? Seems to me that DNA tracing through lines of descent is a pretty iffy business and we have little way of proving much of anything.

If you know something I don't, I'm all ears.

Fifthgen said...

Seth: I do not exclude the possibility that Joseph Smith had sexual relations with some of his plural wives, but did you read BiV's post over at Mormon Matters? DNA research is underway, and it just is not turning up much in the way of Joseph Smith descendants from plural wives. Granted, scientific evidence and theories change over time, but as MCQ points out, we are dealing with a pretty manageable universe of individuals here, and so far, not descendants.

I really want to hear BiV’s thoughts on my question, though. 

MCQ said...

Seth:

This is a very interesting issue to me because my wife is a direct descendant of one of Joseph's plural wives, Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner.

As Fifthgen said, we are dealing with a finite group of people here, and the DNA lines are not that old. We know all or nearly all the women that Joseph was married to, and we know all of the children that they had.

Those children are either children of (1)Joseph, or (2) of the other husbands that these women had (before, after or -- in some cases -- during the time they were married to Joseph, or possibly (3) of another male that they had sexual contact with outside of marriage.

In the case of many of these children, we can rule out Joseph as the father because of location and timing: Joseph was either dead or provably in a completely different location (like jail) when the conception would have had to occur.

Additionally, as Fifthgen has said, the DNA testing that has been done (and some extensive testing has been happening) has not as yet turned up any confirmed descendants outside of Emma's children.

In sum: We have Joseph's DNA. We have the DNA of the descendants of most of the children of Joseph's plural wives. We ought to be able to determine if Joseph fathered those children. So far, we have not found any. That doesn't prove there were none, and it certainly doesn't prove he never had sex with any of his plural wives, but it does suggest that sex was not happening with great frequency, because otherwise, there would be some children that we could point to as being Joseph's.

Ayla said...

I totally would have slept with him too, I love this post title! *giggle*

Chris said...

MCQ,

One of the best candidates still remains. I have a good friend (Don Bradley) who is writing a book on the subject and has shared with me some of his findings, so I can say with confidence that the case for consummation will only get stronger.

Bored in Vernal,

How attractive is it when a much older man wants to marry and sleep with you in secret, behind his wife's back and perhaps also behind your own husband's back?

Best,

-Chris

cinepro said...

I am just rubbing my hands together in anticipation of a test that will prove that...Joseph Smith was intimate with his wives. That will be a huge revelation, shocking to all. Huge I tell you. Colossal. It will totally change my view of him to find out that he engaged in polygamy with the justification to increase his seed (Jacob 2:20) and then actually did the only act that could actually facilitate an increase in seed.

No, I mean really, this is how surprised I will be:

"Holy Cow!"

I don't usually use such salty language, but a surprise of this magnitude would demand it.

So much will change if we find out that in addition to secretly marrying teenage and twentysomething (among others) women and living with them and visiting them for overnight stays, Joseph actually slept with them. Until now, I've assumed they were platonic sleepovers, and Emma was upset over Joseph being platonically sealed to other women.

Yes, so much will change.

But just to stay on topic, I will admit that I'm a hetero guy, and I totally would have slept with Joseph if it would have guaranteed the salvation of me and my family.

Anonymous said...

really ??? I mean REALLY ???? I had to go back and read some of your previous posts to determine if you were really a Latter-Day-Saint --- and not some modern fundie' drooling over the idea of bumpin' uglies with Warren Jeffs too... Really ?????? -- How you have managed to stretch your mind to allow for this thought and actually glamorize it is beyond my capacity..

Do you have daughters? would you react the same way if you were summoned into the Bishops office and told your 14 yr. old daughter was to be given to some random 40 or 50 yr old man as his 6th wife.. chained to a life as baby making factory.. I am angered and disturbed by the very thought of my grand-daughters being used as pawns in some bizarre socio-religious antiquated ritual where women were traded along with pigs and cows...

Please ... for the love of Pete.. stop this thought process before some powerful charismatic religious leader, discovers who you are and shows up on your door-step telling you great stories about Angels with flaming swords, ready to kill him unless you acquiesce to his charms, drop your drawers and get busy right there


sheeeeeesssssshhhhhh ....

Dr. Shades said...

I guess this means you would totally sleep with Warren Jeffs too, right?

Bored in Vernal said...

Do I have daughters? Um, yes. Seven of them. And, though this post is, of course, tongue-in-cheek, I am still attracted to the idea of celestial marriage. Physical intimacy tied with spiritual salvation attracts me. So sue me. I have a great deal of admiration for fundamentalist Mormons. They base their beliefs on much solid evidence and the teachings of our early prophets. The majority are involved in the Principle for spiritual and not carnal reasons. Get to know a few real people living the Principle, and you will see.

Todd Compton puts forth several reasons how it could be that Joseph slept with his plural wives and yet did not have children by any of them. Women are fertile for only a few days during their cycle, and due to tensions with his first wife Emma, the number of wives with whom he contracted, and his travels and preoccupations with his ministry, Joseph may simply not have been available for any of his plural wives during the optimum period of fertility. Except for two of the women, there was only at most a three year span between the marriage and Joseph's death.

Greg said...

I recently posted on Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner's Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith. I thought you might be interested in her comments to a group of young men at BYU in 1905.

Hellmut said...

Bear in mind that the chance of getting pregnant having sex on a random day is 8%. Considering the probability of miscarriage and other complications, the chance of off-spring is 3.5-4%.

Moreover, before the discovery of hygiene, child mortality rates were quite high.

Most importantly, most of Smith's marriages occurred during the last four years of his life. That means that Smith can only have mated with each wife a limited number of times.

Bored in Vernal said...

Hellmut:
You are ruining all the passion of it for me by using the word "mated."
Geez.

Anonymous said...

Wow, a woman who actually likes the concept of plural marriage. Here's a link to an article by some LDS scholars about why polygamy may not be happening in the celestail kingdonm. http://content.lib.utah.edu/cdm4/document.php?CISOROOT=/dialogue&CISOPTR=28789&REC=13

What's the point of cultivating love with one spouse in this life when it's null in the next? Why would God tell us to cleave unto one and no other just to change his mind in the next life. I don't equate plural marriage with celestial marriage. Nor do many of the prophets old and new (like Bruce R. McConkie in Mormon Doctrine). IMO polygamy relegates women to only the roles of baby makers and not much else. I feel that Joseph Smith was commanded to practice it at that time 1. To raise up seed (even if he didn't have any or too many with his plural wives others who practiced it did, like BY) and 2. In order to test the early saints, a trial by fire sort to speak.
I have a great relationship with my husband. We have fun together; he's my best friend and I can talk to him about anything. Sex is great because we're such great friends and love each other as equals. That doesn't happen in polygamy. There's no equality. No intimacy...I'm only there to be an incubator. And I feel that the spirit baby-making will be very different in the next life so need for one man with a billion wives for seed. SO I feel bad that you feel you have a need for that. Is something missing in your life that you feel you need to be relegated to baby-making and that's it? I've read in other posts that raising billions and billions of kids in the next-life sounds exhausting so you'd rather just play the harp in the choir...so it's just so confusing that you have this stance.